The New Intelligence Agency on the Block
On the surface, the NDAA (National Defense Authorization Act) appears harmless. Simply put, the NDAA is one of two ways in which the Department of Defense sets its annual budget. But buried in between allocations for helicopters and combat boots are some more controversial – and some might say insidious – provisions.
In 2012, for instance, a section of the act labeled “Counter-Terrorism” gave Congressional support to the president’s ability to indefinitely detain anyone suspected of terrorist activities, even U.S. citizens on U.S. soil. Thankfully, after a year of heavy lobbying by everyone from the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) to the Cato Institute, the 2013 NDAA overturned most of the detention provisions and Americans who stay in their country can no longer be indefinitely detained in a military facility.
Potentially, the most troubling development of the 2014 NDAA is the creation of another intelligence agency. As if the FBI, CIA, and NSA weren’t enough. Starting in 2014, the Conflict Records Research Center (CRRC) will open with the documented purpose of facilitating “research and analysis of records captured from countries, organizations, and individuals, now or once hostile to the United States.” The text indicates that the Center will be open to both academic and national security professionals so that the two sectors can collaborate to “identify topics of importance for the leadership of the United States Government and the scholarly community.”
So basically the NDAA is creating a friendly research library, right? Wrong.
First of all, there is a huge loophole written into the clause concerning access to the data at the CRRC. Though the text promises to make “a significant portion” of these captured records available to researchers, they will only do so after taking into account “the protection of national security information, personally identifiable information, and intelligence sources and methods.” To anyone who has had to wade through a censored document, it is easy to image that this language means the CRRC may decide to only publicly release documents that are more black marker than text.
Then there is the matter of just what information might become publicly available in the first place. The section is very clear that only records captured from hostile countries will be made available at the Center. It even goes on to define “captured records” as “a document, audio file, video file, or other material captured during combat operations.” The problem with this seemingly precise definition is that since the Authorization for the Use of Military Force was drafted in the early post-9/11 era, the U.S. has technically been in a continuous state of combat on a worldwide battlefield. In other words, if the U.S. government wants your records and can take them from you, they can also make them public at the CRRC.
Finally, there is the matter of money. As the Center is not due to open until next year, we are not yet able to “follow the funds”, as it were, but there is incredible potential for shady dealings at the Conflict Records Research Center. This is because the organization can take donations from nearly anyone: a) a U.S. state or regional government, b) the government of a foreign country, c) a foundation or charitable organization either in the U.S. or a foreign country, or d) any private sector source in the U.S. or a foreign country. Granted, the text stipulates that the Center can’t accept any of this money if it might interfere with their objectivity, but the same premise goes for politicians and their campaign contributions. So, hypothetically, the CRRC could fund their intelligence research with money from anyone from arms dealers to North Korea as long as they could prove the contribution didn’t influence their agenda. That’s comforting. Keep a look-out—2014 could be an interesting year.
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